The Legal Sustainability Alliance is addressing a seemingly intractable problem – business travel.
Five years ago, on a small ice cap in Iceland, an event took place that had a dramatic impact on how we conducted our business. The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull caused a huge ash cloud to drift across Europe, resulting in the greatest disruption to air travel since the second world war. Twenty countries closed their commercial airspace and 10 million travellers were directly affected, with millions more having to change their plans later.
Business did not, however, grind to a halt. We found a way to carry on.
Why is this relevant or important to the Legal Sustainability Alliance (LSA) today? As a nationwide, collaborative and open access alliance of more than 300 UK law firms we focus on addressing the sustainability challenges facing each of us in our business. We are wrestling with a seemingly intractable problem: how to develop, integrate and embed sustainable business travel habits into our firms’ cultures.
The LSA supports its members to measure, record and report on their carbon emissions each year. This year’s report, expected in June, shows that many firms have made great strides in energy efficiency, waste reduction and water consumption. Many small steps combine to make major savings. To be clear, this is an economic initiative as much as responsible business.
The law is a personal business. Clients want to meet their legal teams face to face. In a competitive market you need to be at the pitch meeting in person to ensure you win the business, and early indications from the 2015 report show an increase in business travel with a resultant increase in emissions.
This is due in part to the upturn in business as the economy recovers. Interestingly though, for many it is not client business that forms the bulk of our travel but internal meetings. Whole firm, partner-to-partner, office-to-office travelling is what racks up the miles.
There is a legitimate distinction between travel that is ‘cost of sales’ and travel that is ‘expense’. Doubters will say you cannot reduce the first without undermining client development and relationships. In fact, many clients have the same challenges and some discourage unnecessary travel in their terms of business. There may be greater sympathy in your clients’ mind with this issue than you think – if you are prepared to raise it. Regardless, with own-account travel, the same arguments do not apply, or not to the same extent.
Our challenge is to shift our thinking and make alternatives such as web meetings and video or teleconferencing an acceptable and commonplace mode of engaging with colleagues and clients.
We do not have all the answers and we need to encourage an open conversation. To address this, we have launched a series of initiatives, from a travel survey to a series of webinars and best practice guides on sustainable travel, and a summer-long travel challenge: All Change, run in partnership with Sustrans.
All Change launches on 5 June (World Environment Day) and runs until September. It is open to all LSA member firms and will encourage you to think about and try more sustainable travel options. It is not all about cycling.
All forms of sustainable alternatives to cars and planes will count – home working, teleconferencing, cycling, even car sharing all add to your miles on your virtual journey. It will be competitive and fun, and we are aiming to get as many of our 300 or so members involved as we can. If you are not a member and want to take part, I urge you to join the LSA.
Jeff Twentyman is chairman of the Legal Sustainability Alliance and a partner at Slaughter and May
- The LSA (formerly the Legal Sector Alliance) is a joint venture between its member firms and the Law Society. It is funded equally by firms that have chosen to be executive members and the Society. Membership is open to all UK law firms and is free. To register for All Change see allchange.getmeactive.org.uk. To find out more about the LSA email email@example.com or visit legalsectoralliance.co.uk.